John Bel Edwards signs bill to make hazing a felony act

 

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By Wilborn P. Nobles III

wnobles@nola.com,

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

 

Hazing is now a felony in Louisiana, after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law Thursday (May 31) a measure that intensifies the penalties against people and organizations deemed guilty of hazing that causes bodily harm.

House Bill 78, which is now known as “The Max Gruver Act,” came about after an 18-year-old LSU freshman died after a night of fraternity drinking rituals last September at Phi Delta Fraternity. The death of Maxwell Gruver, of Roswell, Georgia, also sparked the creation of several other proposed bills intended to crack down on hazing.

 

The Max Gruver Act prohibits people from hazing another person regardless of whether the person voluntarily allowed the hazing. Violators would get a $1,000 fine and spend six months behind bars. If the person hazed dies or gets seriously injured, the offender would pay $10,000 and spend five years in prison.

The law also penalizes a representative or officer of an organization if the person knew and failed to report that one or more of the organization’s members were hazing. The organization involved will be charged a $10,000 fine and be ordered to forfeit any public funds, rights, or privileges.  

Before the law was signed, the maximum penalty for hazing was 30 days in jail and a $100 fine. Edwards, who signed the law Thursday (May 31), said the law’s passage will help Louisiana become a “model state.” 

State Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, was also present in the State Capitol’s press conference room when Edwards signed her bill. They were joined by Gruver’s parents, Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, who watched as Edwards signed Landry’s bill into law.

A grand jury in Baton Rouge in March indicted four of the 10 men arrested in connection with Gruver’s death from alcohol poisoning and aspiration. They pleaded not guilty to their criminal charges on April 20.


Edwards told the public the Max Gruver Act is “a good start to an ongoing process.” The governor plans to also sign House Bill 793, which would require colleges and universities to provide new students with education about the dangers of hazing and the laws that penalize it.

Edwards has also signed Senate Bill 91, sponsored by State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, to allow people who file civil lawsuits after someone dies from hazing to collect more in penalty payments. 

 

The passage of Claitor’s bill means punitive damages can be awarded if there is proof the person’s death was caused by the wanton and reckless disregard for the rights and safety of the person through hazing, regardless of whether the defendant was prosecuted for his acts. This law applies to both individuals as well as universities and organizations that lack definitive anti-hazing policies.

Wilborn P. Nobles III is an education reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at wnobles@nola.com or on Twitter at @WilNobles.